Lose weight by weighing less: bad taunt, good science!

Lose weight by weighing less

So said The Atlantic in a side-swipe at Gary Hamel, the management professor.  They meant to damn him  They meant to say he was being tautological – or in plain language – saying black is black.  Unknowingly, they were being profound!  What they don’t realize is that management theory has moved on.  Like modern psychology, it has expanded its horizons.  The mathematical models we use have changed and to say we lose weight by weighing less is sound modelling.

Cause-and-effect was our first question

One hundred years ago, we were captivated by questions of cause-and-effect.  What causes overweight, we might ask. And we came up with models that said the more food went in the more fat on our body.    Food is is food.   Fat is fat.  They are different and one causes the other.

And so it went on.  We said intelligence led to success in later life.  We said that eating well led to intelligence.  On and on.

Actually few of these factors are independent of each other.  Fat is transformed from food.  And intelligence is a make-believable variable that exists only because it is associated with success.

Now we ask how a phenomenon changes over time

That said, we aren’t that interested in these models any more or the general question of what causes what.

These days we are more interested in recursive models.  Lose weight by weighing less is exactly what interests me.  Today I might way 60 kg.  Tomorrow I may weigh 59.9 kg or 60.1 kg.  What is the natural fluctuation in my weight and what leads to the weight getting greater (or less) and then reversing direction.

We know weight is caused by what goes in and what goes out.  And both of those are dependent on each other.  I will eat more more I have skipped meals and I will exercise less when I’ve had too much or too little to eat.    We are interested in all the relevant factors change in time and how they interact with each other in a highly fluctuating yet essentially self-correcting and stable system.

What doesn’t change may well be sick

Illness comes from lack of fluctuation. We should worry about utterly static weight and a completely constant appetite.

How do we shift systems?

Anyone who has tried to shift their typical weight, for vanity or to please their doctor, knows that it is quite hard to do.  There seems to be homeostatic levels which remain fairly constant given any set of circumstances.  Complexity theorists know that systems are self-replicating.  They also know the “shape” of the system matters.    We expect a system to fluctuate a lot but like our weight, in a general range.  When we get no fluctuation, or when our weight rockets or plummets, then we are ill!

Shifting entire systems requires a different form of thinking.  More on that another day.

For now, yes – we can lose weight by weighing less.  It is a weak system of change to look at the scales each day.  But it will work.  Just weigh less every day and you will lose weight.  Perfect mathematical model. Perfect science.

Sorry The Atlantic.  Misguided taunt.  Another one of these areas where the world has changed a lot in the last five years.  Now we do recursive models not cause-and-effect models.

Positive psychology for losing weight

Those extra pounds

Have you ever tried to change your diet, and ended up making it worse?  Have you ever resolved to eat more fruit, and then discovered that you are eating to much sugar?  Have you tried to cut down on snacks, then got so hungry that you raided the automatic vending machine and bought a chocolate bar?

The NY Times, this weekend describes a community weight-loss programme, that doctors believe will be no more successful than our solo attempts to lose weight.  Despite its laudable goals, and ideas like taxes on carbonated drinks, doctors believe, it will ‘bounce back’ just as our personal attempts to diet come back to haunt us.

Why is it so hard to change our behaviour and achieve important results?

Dieting is hard, partly because we go about it the wrong way.

What I want to do today is to show you what the relatively young field of positive psychology offers, to help us with the age old problem of  ‘too much of a good thing.

What is positive psychology?

First, I need to tell you what positive psychology is, and somewhat ironically, it is easier to say what is not.

Positive psychology is not positive thinking.  I don’t say to myself it is OK to be overweight, or that everything will be alright.

Positive psychology is not the setting of high but isolated goals such as “I will get more exercise”.

Positive psychology is not the righting of wrongs such as “I will eat fewer calories” or “I will eat less junk food”.

Our behaviors exist in a network of behaviors, and changing one thing requires changing others.  We may badly want to do more exercise, for example, but we may have such long commutes that we have no time.  We might be able to park our car further from the train and walk, but that also might take us past junk food outlets when are tired and hungry.  Often our ‘bad habits’ are locked in to a system.  To ask ourselves to change behaviours, flys in the face of reality.

Positive psychology and losing those pounds

Positive psychology advocates setting positive goals, living life sociably and in context, and doing more, of what we already do well.

Here are five positive approaches that will work for you.

Stage One. Write down all your good eating habits and the ways you take exercise, underline the ones you really enjoy, and do more of them.

Stage Two.  At the end of each day, or at a suitable time like on the commuter train, jot down what you have eaten and what exercise you took, and ask yourself “Why did I do so well?”  Disregard the parts you bombed out.  Concentrate on why you did so well during the last 24 hours.  The strong systems will become apparent and you can do more of them.

Stage Three. Savor your food.  I know we were told to eat more slowly as kids.  That’s important, I believe.  I mean enjoy what you are eating.  Eat what you enjoy and really savor it.  Celebrate each mouthful.  Enjoy the taste, the texture, the smell, the colour, the combinations.

Stage Four. Say grace if you are religious.  If you aren’t, look down and count up the things on your plate that you really love.

Stage Five.  Eat with others, if you can, and make a meal into a social occasion.  Cook together.  Thank the cooks.  Cook what others enjoy.  Wash up together.

I am almost certain that never, ever, in all the times that you have dieted, have you tried Stage One writing down your good habits and doing more of them.

Come with me

Shall we do it together?

And compare notes at the end of the week?

Shall we see if  life becomes more enjoyable and more stylish, and if we are feeling a little more comfortable, and a little less stuffed with the excesses of Christmas?

Are you up for it?

P.S. If you are unwell, or already under the supervision of a doctor, nutritionist or other health professional, you can join us in writing down your good habits, but please don’t change anything until you have consulted your medical advisers.  And if you are unwell, do that soon, you hear?